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In a move to promote a better learning environment, all Franklin County school system students are getting free breakfasts the entire academic year through a special pilot program
Melissa Livesay, Franklin County school nutrition supervisor, said this past week that the program stemmed from a move to comply with the Community Eligibility Provision, a law being implemented nation-wide this year.
She said the law is part of the ‘Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act’ signed into law by President Barack Obama in reauthorizing meal programs. She added that to be eligible for CEP, the school/district/school groupings must have 40 percent or more directly certified students — those who come from families who receive food stamps or are on the federal Families First program, or are from migratory, homeless or foster surroundings.
Livesay said that Franklin County only has three schools that would meet the CEP criteria, so she and Dr. Rebecca Sharber, the school system’s director, agreed to take a different approach that would be far reaching to more students.
“Dr. Sharber and I made the decision not to offer CEP at only three schools in Franklin County,” Livesay said. “However, we did make the decision to offer a universal free breakfast to all students.”
She explained why the system is putting such a high priority on breakfast.
“We feel that it’s difficult for a hungry child to learn,” Livesay said. “We feel that by providing food, we can get children better prepared to learn.”
She said the program is a one-year pilot effort and is not associated with CEP. She added that funds from the Franklin County school nutrition budget will be used to provide breakfast meals to all students at no cost.
Enrollment figures last week showed that 5,444 students are in the system’s seven grade schools, two middle schools and two high schools.
Livesay said that the nutrition budget is independent from the school system’s regular operating budget, and it receives money through meal sales to students, compensation from the federal government and al carte sales to parents and visitors to the cafeterias.
She said the goal through the pilot program this year is to see if the breakfast program can be financially self-sufficient, compensated heavily through lunch sales. She added that the budget had more than three month’s operating expenses, as required by law — about $1.05 million — left over from the previous 10-month period where meals are served. She added that the surplus should pick up the slack if there’s a financial shortfall with the free breakfast program.
The annual nutrition budget totals about $3.5 million.
If the program does not turn out to be financially solvent, then it would be the Board of Education’s call during the next budget cycle to determine whether to provide funding toward the effort, Livesay said. But the goal this year is to have it be self-sustaining in an upward financial trend that would allow it to continue without any future aid from the Board of Education, she added.
Livesay said that even though about 60 percent of the students could qualify for free or reduced priced meals, only 20 percent of them regularly use the breakfast program.
She said that, even in a worse case scenario and the program does not turn out to be financially self sufficient, the hope is to increase the number of free and reduced priced meal students who regularly eat breakfast.
“We’re just trying ways to let people know about it,” she said, referring to getting more parents to have their children participate in the breakfast program.
Livesay said participation in the free or reduced price nutrition program is confidential, and many students who receive the benefit are not even aware that they are involved in it.
She also said that the nutrition program is offering healthy snacks free of charge to students enrolled in extra-curricular activities.